Meeting the Australians was an accident. One day I was leaving a U.N. election meeting and was introduced to Peter Towndrow. Peter owned the private security company being paid $40 million to transport election materials throughout Iraq. Peter’s company was hired by the Independent Election Commission of Iraq using U.N. funds.
Peter asked me if I wanted to fly to Kurdistan the next day. He was going there to meet with a Kurdish leader to give him cash to hire Kurdish militia (Peshmerga) to help the Australians protect and transport registration forms and ballots. I told Peter I’d love to go.
The next day I was on a helicopter. The security briefing was to the point: “If we are hit and the helo goes down, we will set up a defensive perimeter about the remains of the helicopter and pray for help.” Two hours later we landed in Kurdistan and I was met with mountain air, endless blue skies and Andre, the Australians’ team leader in Northern Iraq.
The Australians had taken over the top floor of a hotel in Erbil. They had moved there after coming to the conclusion that the kim-chee breakfasts and no-alcohol policy on the South Korean base was not their style.
On my first night at the hotel, Andre pulled me aside and asked: “Mate, Pete needs to meet with an arms dealer. Our rooms are packed. Can he use your room?” It was one of those questions a documentary filmmaker can only dream of: “Can a Kurdish arms dealer meet with an Australian security contractor to purchase weapons to secure Iraq’s elections that are being conducted as part of the United States’ effort to bring democracy to the Middle East in your hotel room?!” I smiled and said sure. The scene, in which Peter and the arms dealer debate the pros and cons of Chinese vs. Russian AK-47s while drinking cans of coke, is one of my favorites in the film.